During the Christmas season, Minnehaha ballerinas twirl and dance across stages all over the Twin Cities. Two students performed in The St. Paul Ballet’s production of Clara’s Dream at the O’Shaughnessy on Dec. 2 through 4. Clara’s Dream is St. Paul Ballet’s adapted version of the Nutcracker, written and directed by company member ZoÃ© Emilie Henrot.
Freshman Brynne Whitman played the part of a Soldier in Act 1, and Little Bo Peep in Act 2 along with Minnehaha seventh grader Marie Krummen dancing as one of her sheep (fifth grader Griffin Anderson was a “little party girl” in the performance. Whitman is an experienced dancer in the Pre-Professional Program at St. Paul Ballet, and has been dancing for 11 years. “Ballet is very structured and full of guidelines, which I love. The best part about it though, is how you can push those limits and show your personality through your dancing. St. Paul Ballet is a great place to train, because there is the classical Russian ballet but also other types of dance that you can try out, including modern, character, and flamenco. Experimenting with these help me improve my artistry,” she said. Krummen has been dancing since she was four years old and is a level 3 dancer.
Clara’s Dream is focused on the relationship of Clara and her Uncle Drosselmeyer, who walks her through her dream world. A traditional Nutcracker is more centered around the masculine character of the Nutcracker.
Company member and dance instructor Preston Stockert described the difference between Clara’s Dream and the Nutcracker.
“The way that we look at our Clara’s Dream as a feminist version of the Nutcracker, because we don’t have a Nutcracker,” he said. “It is definitely more focused on the female characters than the male characters.”
Part of the reason St. Paul Ballet adapted the Nutcracker script was because years ago the company was small and there were not enough dancers to produce the Nutcracker. In the beginning years, the only male character on stage the whole show was Uncle Drosselmeyer, portrayed by Stockert. Over the past five years the company and ballet school have continued to grow; this year there were over 100 dancers in two different casts, as well as other male characters, including Brennan Benson (Spanish dancer in Act 2), Jarod Boltjes (Arabian dancer in Act 2), Zachary Brickson (Clara’s Brother), Kaito Aihara (Jack in Mother Goose). Notwithstanding the St. Paul Ballet’s growth over the years, the script has remained the same and is becoming a signature production of the company.
“My role in Clara’s Dream changes every year; it gets a little more in depth, it gets a little more complicated and little more technical,” said Stockert. “I like the fact that after my third season last year [this is my fourth time doing it], it becomes a little more homey, the artistry becomes a little more ethereal, it’s from what comes within. It doesn’t feel like it’s choreographed, it doesn’t feel like I’m letting someone down. I can be on stage, be trusted to do what I need to do, and the show goes on.”
According to Henrot, the company dancers begin preparing for Clara’s Dream in August. Many of them perform the same roles each year, but cast modifications do happen and choreography evolves. In addition to the company dancers, St. Paul Ballet cast more than fifty members of their ballet school, such as Whitman and Krummen, in the show. These dancers were cast in September and rehearsed several times per week depending upon their level and experience. In addition to being a company dancer, Stockert is dance instructor and says he enjoys helping the young dancers prepare for Clara’s Dream.
“I really enjoy watching them do their own improvisation,” he said. “a lot of the times the students I have, after teaching them certain ideas of improvisation, they just go and do their own things, and it doesn’t take a lot pulling teeth to do it. I have a good way of getting kids to feel comfortable in a classroom to do what they want during improvisation. I mean, other than that, like little tiny things technically, I’m excited for the extension in them getting on their kicks, and how much harder they’re working and traveling and moving through space, but the thing that I’m most proud of is that they’re own artistry is so potent, and that all I had to do was make them feel comfortable and then they went and took the reigns themselves on that.”
(Quote about the thing they like most about preparing for Clara’ Dream and what is most challenging)
“When preparing for a show like Clara’s Dream, I start by focusing on all the little details. My teachers critique me on everything from the height of my leg to the point of my feet. After I have gotten these down, I work on my artistry and really enjoying the piece. I love how all of the hard work you put in pays off. Being on stage is definitely the best feeling.”
In case you missed Clara’s Dream and wish to enjoy a holiday ballet performance, Ballet Minnesota will perform The Nutcracker at the O’Shaughnessy the weekend of December 16.